Friday, October 21, 2005

Singing to the Massless Market

Yesterday, I received a polite and professional rejection note from a literary agent to whom I'd offered my latest project (which is, in fact, based on the past year of Daily Rev). The notice itself, of course, came as no surprise: it was from an excellent agent who had taken an interest in my work before, so to that extent it was disappointing.

But let's face it: Daily Rev is simply not mass market material, and literary agents have to work the mass market in order to put bread on their tables. So it was merely a welcome-to-reality moment for me.

After all, Daily Rev's lack of appeal to the mass market is one of its guiding virtues. I would remind anyone that if the mass market attracts you, either as purveyor, proponent, or follower, then I would suggest that you have a problem to solve. Not a fault, or even a flaw, mind you. Just a problem.

If what everyone is doing, saying, wearing, eating, or buying is repetetively what you're after, then you have reached a moment for a comprehensive life review.

Note the word "repetetively": you can own a cell phone and still not be a slave to that strange cult of solipsistic aggression that it seems to have spawned.

I'm talking about those people who seem to think that they can stagger like drunks through a subway station or the lobby of a building, careless of where they're going, all because they happen to be yakking in a self-important strain on one of those little plastic slabs. I am nearly run over by such characters at least twice a day during the workweek.

It's not the fault of the phones themselves, nor their manufacturers, that people have forgotten how to ambulate (never mind communicate); any more than it is the fault of my iMac here that the blogosphere so often seems replete with shrill hackers who seem to despise the English language.

Technology comes with mechanical instructions in its use; unfortunately, it lacks instructions on its proper social use. Maybe the boxes these devices come packaged in should have warning labels like cigarette packs: unmindful use of this technology could cause you to behave like a reckless boor in public, or forget that the English language is meant to be loved and nurtured for its beauty rather than beaten regularly like the proverbial rented mule.

The problem, it seems, is that the box comes instead with
advertising (that has always mystified me: even after you've taken the product home and opened the package, there is still more advertising, as if to reassure you that you've spent your money wisely). Most advertising is carefully researched and designed to make us think competetively and act impulsively. And they're very, very good at what they do, which is to make us want what everyone has, though a little better, a little newer, a little cooler, than what they have.

We all feel the pulse of created desire. It happened to me today: I saw those brand new Powermacs from Apple and thought, "oh my god...Quad power dual core processors with four video cards on the motherboard...what I couldn't do with that..." (yep, I'm a sick puppy when it comes to geek stuff).

Well, what I would do with that is probably waste all that computing power, since I'm neither a professional filmmaker nor a musician. I know damned well that I have no practical use for anything close to that level of geek muscle. But the presentation was so compelling that I felt the throb of manufactured need.

Advertising works that way: it touches those nerves that are most sensitive to the extremes
, to the longing for the ultimate. Our current government in Washington has done an outstanding job of hitting those nerves, regularly and rigorously. Karl Rove, who may be next in the mugshot line behind Tom DeLay (who got his today), is the Secretary of Advertising for the Bush Administration. He knows how to package fear; how to tweak that security-longing synapse in our brains and thereby activate the patriotism reflex (which in turn sparks a motor impulse to pull the red switch at the voting booth). From plain rhetoric to TV commercials to photo ops in the Rose Garden, Karl's got the game down like no one has before him. For more on that, see Keith Olberman's recent column at MSNBC. Give the man some credit for his talent; then slap the cuffs on him and let the indictments be read to a grateful nation and broadcast to every ROKR and RAZR out there.

Meanwhile, beware the mass market mindset and its ubiquitous cultural symbols. When you see or hear that siren song of object-lust, check in with yourself and ask the question: "is this my need, or someone's projection of a need?" The answer, I have found, is almost always the same.


Quote of the day, from a banner at the recent anti-war protest in Washington:


1 comment:

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